Titus Kaphar was a highly successful artist. One dominant theme of his work was creative reuse of classical images to expose hidden relationships of race and subjugation. When he moved back to New Haven, Connecticut, he began a project that required creative reuse and reframing on a much grander scale. He co-founded an organization, NXTHVN, to take an old factory building in a rundown neighborhood and reconfigure the space into an art incubator, artists’ studios, and a community center.
But even though he was a master of canvas and installation, he realized that he could not turn NXTHVN into a reality alone. He worked closely with many individuals, particularly with Jonathan Brand, a fellow M.F.A. student at Yale who had also moved back to New Haven. Titus had little experience raising money, designing a building, or navigating the intense political landscape of the city. He then partnered with Jason Price, a Harvard MBA with experience in private equity, whom he had met by chance in New Haven. He also worked with the Dean of Yale’s School of Architecture, Deborah Berke, to design a plan for rehabilitating an old factory.
The project morphed into two interrelated initiatives that would be housed together in the rehabilitated factory building. The first was an incubator for early-career artists. The program would include a yearlong fellowship that included studio space, a stipend, and a curriculum of workshops to help the artists navigate the realities of making a life in the art world.
The second initiative was a community workspace that would offer low-cost spaces such as studios, coworking offices, and a theater. NXTHVN hoped to attract a diverse group of people to this space, charging them less than they would otherwise have to pay.
The initiatives faced the challenges of all social enterprises. Price and Kaphar had to set-up governance mechanisms, find a communications strategy, and decide on a revenue model. By July 2019, construction was moving toward its conclusion and the first group of emerging artists was working in the studios.
With their newly hired Executive Director, they could begin to examine more questions: How could the programs interact with their neighbors? Could they help revitalize the existing community without displacing its residents and becoming agents of gentrification? And later, even larger questions would arise: Was this model replicable in other locales? Could art become a vehicle for redevelopment of urban neighborhoods?
Publication Date: 2019-10-17
Suggested Citation: Jean Rosenthal, Kate Cooney, and Jaan Elias, "NXTHVN," Yale SOM Case 19-017, October 17, 2019